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With Ronda Rousey, a lack of competition doesn't mean a lack of drama

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

If the public had its way, Bethe Correia would carry a one-time only nickname into tonight’s main event with Ronda Rousey at UFC 190: "The Formality." Nobody is giving Correia much of a chance, even though she’ll be fighting on home soil in Brazil. The thing is, even thousands of Cariocas chanting morbid things (at which fighter is anybody's guess) can’t will Correia into being something she’s not.

And that is, a miracle worker.

Correia had a fine time of it beating up Rousey’s buddies to get to this point. She battered Jessamyn Duke (which, as you know, has become a bit of a pastime for women in the bantamweight division) at UFC 172, and then lit into Shayna Baszler at UFC 177. As both belonged to the ill-fated "Four Horsewomen" -- an homage to the fabled Four Horsemen of pro wrestling, featuring Rousey herself -- Correia peeled away her fingers after each win like a bounty hunter in pursuit of the champ. It was a nice touch. Since the other horsewoman, Marina Shafir, doesn’t fight in the UFC or even in a nearby weight class, it’s straight to Rousey.

Of course, Rousey is the place where all such narratives go to die. Rousey is the executioner at the end of every run, at the end of every feel-good story, at the end of every so-called rainbow. She hangs over the division like black drapes in a green room. She’s the brick wall that every underdog smashes into on every flight of fancy. She owns Sugarloaf Mountain.

The numbers don’t lie: Alexis Davis, 16 seconds…Cat Zingano, 14 seconds…Sara McMann, 66 seconds…Sarah Kaufman, 54 seconds. That’s a whole division that Rousey cleared out in a grand total of two minutes and 30 seconds of cage time. Rousey doesn’t waste time.

And Correia, who actually helped Rousey guard against complacency by mentioning her father, is just another dangling piñata. Only Rousey isn’t the bat in this scenario. She’s a bazooka.

Oh, now wait -- not that we can’t cling to certain dramatic markers in the lead-up. Rousey is meeting Correia on Correia’s terms, after all. One fun narrative is that this fight is reminiscent of Rocky IV, with the way it’s set up. And it is, it is, make no mistake about it. It feels exactly like when Ivan Drago came into enemy territory to face Apollo Creed.

(Hopefully I’m not misinterpreting the reference).

In any case -- and to be fair -- Correia is no better off than anybody not named "Cyborg" going against Rousey at this point. In some ways, we’ve come full-circle to UFC president Dana White’s original objection to introducing the women’s 135-division into the UFC in the first place. There’s not much depth. The only way it can work is if Rousey is the abyss. It can only work if Rousey devours her competition in the savage way that Mike Tyson did in the mid-to-late-1980s. You see, Correia has to be Pinklon Thomas.

And Miesha Tate, who is once again in the on-deck circle, is Tony Tubbs or Tony Tucker, take your pick.

Speaking of Tate, there’s your example for just how far out in front Rousey is of everybody else. Tate defeated Jessica Eye at UFC on FOX 16 and has once again worked her way into Rousey’s crosshairs. Correia is such a foregone conclusion that we’re already contemplating the trilogy between Tate and Rousey. And yet Tate’s claim to fame in fighting Rousey the first two times is that A) her threshold for pain is preternatural, especially when her arm is being turned up at odd angles and B) she lasted longer than anybody else against Rousey.

In Rousey’s book, My Fight/Your Fight, she wrote that the prolonged drubbing at UFC 168 was actually done on purpose. That she wanted to punish Tate. Diabolical, sure, but given Rousey’s track record it’s not hard to believe her. (Note: Rousey also said in the book that beet borscht tasted like "angel bathwater," presumably just to send the reader down a rabbit hole. So take what you will from it).

Tate is like an ongoing investigation at this point. She’s the recurring representative who exists to figure out if the gap is closing between Rousey and her nearest counterpart. Make a few tweaks on Tate and send her in again. When the time comes for Tate-Rousey III, people will already be looking well past "Cupcake." It doesn’t matter how many pairs of glass slippers she tries on, none of them are going to fit.

That’s the feeling, anyway.

Rousey said this week that she has a three-part plan in place for the immediate future: To beat Correia, take a couple of weeks off then beat Tate, and when all that’s said and done, go film a movie called Mile 22. Maybe Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino sits at the next mile marker, who knows. It’s wait and see. Cyborg is the only fight where it doesn’t feel like a foregone conclusion. There’s the weight conundrum, but that fight will only grow on the horizon, the last big drama of Rousey’s career.

Not that there isn’t drama to be had at UFC 190. It’s just a different kind. It’s less to do with Correia’s chances than it is how fast, how intense, how vicious, how ruthless. That’s come to define a Rousey fight. And sometimes, when you’re dealing with an athlete such as her, those things are enough.